Here is the first part of an interview in the state of Georgia State sports with athletics director Cheryl Levick.
I interviewed Levick for about an hour in the conference room of her office.
For those who haven’t met her, Levick is very organized. She used a wipeboard to help with some of her answers so that I could clearly understand some of her points. She’s also very thoughtful, often thinking about her answers before she speaks.
A piece of news that I had heard bits and pieces of, but was able to piece together until Tuesday, is that R. Charles Loudermilk has donated $1 million toward the construction of a new weightlifting facility. There is no site plan or anything yet decided for that gift.
The second part of the Q&A will be posted tomorrow morning. Here’s the first part, and it focuses on football. Part II will focus on basketball, the future of Panthersville, and fundraising.
Some questions and answers have been paraphrased. In some cases, similar topics were asked during different portions of the interview. Those topics have been grouped together.
Q: Some of the fans have wanted Georgia State to be on the FBS level, yesterday. Do you have plans to eventually move Georgia State up to the FBS level?
A: My immediate charge as athletic director is to grow this football program to the point where it’s ready for CAA football next year. That’s what I’m working every day to do, to get this program ready. We have a five-year strategic plan that focuses on getting, not only football, but all of our teams to the top tier of the CAA.
At a point within the strategic plan, if the President says, “Cheryl, let’s look at other options,” I’ll be glad to. But right now I need to stay focused on my charge, which is getting this program to the top tier of the CAA.
Q: But are there any plans, any discussions, anything written down?
A: There are no written plans, no feasibility study. I think it’s smart to say that everyone is watching the realignment of these conferences closely. The landscape of collegiate athletics is changing every single week. As members of the CAA, we have to be mindful and watch carefully what’s happening to make sure that we don’t get left behind somehow.
Q: The CAA, because it is an FCS level conference and operates below most people’s radar, has been very fluid the past few years, with schools dropping off and being added. What is your take on the future of the CAA?
A: CAA football meets as a group and looks at the membership, who’s coming in and who’s coming out. It seems with Old Dominion coming in, us coming in, we are looking at where Villanova is going to end up. At that point in time, we have to make sure that we have a viable, healthy CAA football conference.
Q: How do you do that?
A: The presidents, the athletics directors, meeting with the commissioner, making sure that we know what’s happening. We really lean on the commissioner to make sure we know what’s going on.
Last summer, the presidents joined the athletic directors at their annual meeting for conversations with the football conference. The Presidents were there to talk to have involvement with key topics. One of the key topics is the membership of CAA football, who is in, what are the issues. We are keeping a close watch on it.
Q: Any talk of the entire CAA moving up to the FBS level?
A: No, I’m not sure you can under the new rules.
Q: The other big question is, are there stadium plans?
A: We love the Georgia Dome. It is our home, it is within walking distance. We like that they opened the doors to us, quality service, no weather problems, great working relationship with the Dome. So there are no plans for a stadium. We might look down the road at is there some sort of indoor practice facility that we need to build. But right now, the weather is good down here right now that I’m not sure it’s worth the price tag. Right now we are very happy with playing in the Georgia Dome.
It’s also a huge recruiting advantage. High school players love coming to the Dome, playing in a pro setting, it’s been a real advantage for us.
Q: Was there at any time talk, or feasibility studies done, about building a new stadium?
A: Not to my knowledge.
Q: I’m curious, attendance has been a challenge to some of the other start-up programs, if something more intimate, something smaller would be an advantage. Something where yall could control the revenues.
A: If you look at top-five facility projects, it wouldn’t be a stadium. I’d rather work on improving the attendance in the Georgia Dome and filling that bowl and build a baseball stadium downtown. There are other priorities I’d rather spend on our money on. It’s so expensive to build a football stadium that I’d rather use those funds to build something else because I’m so pleased with the Georgia Dome.
Q: Has the athletic association talked about FBS?
A: No. We haven’t had our first meeting yet. It’s coming up next month. But it’s those big things that they talk about it.
Q: Do you expect that yall will talk about it?
A: I want to talk about land. How do we want to accomplish a master facility plan? Is it the goal of the university to move out of Panthersville? Big philosophical conversations like that.
I think that’s what they want to talk about it.
Q: It seems like this desire do move to FBS doesn’t seem to be one of your primary concerns right now. Is that fair?
A: I really look at, it takes about five years to really get this football program up and running and where we want it go. We are going through growing pains right now, it was a growing pain last Saturday that we experienced. It really does take five years of very strong recruiting, very successful recruiting to get a football program up and running. You have to stay very focused with what you are doing and where you are going. You can’t leapfrog ahead of some these very basic fundamentals. You have to create a culture of good recruiting and a culture of great fanbase and a culture of success in the program before you can move on. You can’t move past these core accomplishments. You have to get them before you can look ahead.
Q: I asked Coach Curry earlier this summer about the contract extension. He said he was going to stick to what he said when yall hired him: he’s going to wait for the five years and then decide what he wants to do. But as you know, a coach that has a contract that doesn’t extend more than a few years out can be hurt in recruiting. Have you and coach Curry talked about a succession plan?
A: We both agreed to wait until after the season and have further discussions about the contract. It’s too distracting during the season.
Q: So you and coach Curry have not talked about a succession plan?
Q: Is football paying for itself yet?
A: The financial formula for football, the student fees cover a lot of the scholarships and the operating budget, as planned and voted on. For everything that’s gameday, Georgia Dome rental, to busses for students to come to games, we are trying to balance that through merchandise revenue, ticket revenue, suite sales and game guarantees.
Q: So, is it?
A: Yes. Last year we had $1 million in revenue and spent about $998,000 for all the game-day activities, including the team going out the night before.
Q: What evidence do you see that football is taking hold on campus? Georgia State is becoming a football school, is the best way to put it.
A: First thing I notice is the excitement on campus around gameday. Particularly that first week of school when all the freshmen are in, we have the pep rally and are getting ready for that first game, the campus is vibrant with activities. The kids love their football program. They want a football program, they want a good team. That’s what you see and feel with football.
The television exposure helps spread the word about Georgia State University. The athletic department is growing at a parallel rate as the university and so we are seeing great things on the campus as Pres. Becker leads the growth.
It has to do a lot with football. A lot of the students that come want that total college football experience and part of that experience is football.
We have had success with fundraising as a part of football. In our first year, we had a $1.5 million gift from Pete Petit. This year we’ve had a $1 million gift from R. Charles Loudermilk (earmarked toward a new weightlifting facility), so there are wonderful donors that believe in football, believe in Bill Curry and want to make sure we are successful.
Q: How does that fundraising compare to pre-football?
A: The first year I came here, we had a raised a total of less than $50,000.
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Follow me on twitter @ajcgsu